The Gift that Keeps on Giving

By: Anika Nayak, Riley’s Way Retreat Team Mentor

The fragrance of crisp, autumn leaves with a hint of fresh pine greeted me as I entered Timber Lake Camp in Shandaken, New York. There was a sense of nostalgia from thinking about the memories I made at the 2019 Riley’s Way Youth Leadership Retreat, where I was one of about a hundred student attendees from across the country. Three years later, I recently had the opportunity to come back and serve as a Team Mentor, acting as a guiding force to the high school leaders.

Mentorship is a gift that keeps on giving. In honor of this year’s retreat theme of The Mic Drop: Listen + Amplify with Empathy, it was empowering to inspire a sense of civic engagement in my mentees, through activities like writing a letter to a local policymaker and illustrating advocacy vision boards. Along with the other Team Mentors, it felt fulfilling to help equip our mentees with leadership development skills that they bring back to their communities to accelerate positive social change.

Throughout the weekend, not only was it powerful to purposefully connect with my mentees, but also gain knowledge from them to make an impact in my own life. One of my favorite moments was leading a workshop on mental health and self-care, which involved a guided reflection activity and presentation on actionable strategies to prevent burnout. During the post-workshop roundtable where we passed the mic around to discuss our own vulnerable experiences, I learned unique and compelling ways to practice giving support, as well as prioritizing mental wellness.

As I reflect on this magical weekend, I think about all the fruitful ways I witnessed my own growth as a leader while simultaneously helping my mentees reach their fullest potential. This weekend was one to remember and I look forward to continuing this circle of kindness to inspire the next generation of young leaders!